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An Anti-Hunger Tool Alongside Foreign Assistance
A smallholder farmer in Kenya with her maize (corn) crop. Photo credit ACDI/VOCA.
It's easy to get the impression that for hungry and poor people overseas, foreign assistance is the most important part of the U.S. budget.
There's no doubt that it's an important aspect of our efforts to end hunger and extreme poverty. This despite its small size -- contrary to the public opinion polls that show, year after year, that Americans believe it makes up about 25 percent of all federal spending, development assistance makes up well under 1 percent of the budget. As we've previously pointed out, foreign aid saves millions of lives every year, whether through disaster relief or through one of many less visible efforts such as vaccinations against childhood diseases. Development assistance is a valuable tool for countries, communities, and families working to build a more prosperous future. Those of us who advocate for better policies on hunger and poverty devote a lot of attention to highlighting the reasons to maintain U.S. development assistance, analyzing how limited funds could be better used, dispelling myths such as the above-mentioned "it's 25 percent of the entire budget," and more.
But in some cases, the impact of U.S. policies on trade and/or agriculture can actually cancel out the development assistance a nation receives -- or more than cancel it out, leaving countries worse off. That's why it's so important that the administration's budget request for FY 2014 proposes reductions in farm subsidies. Subsidies for crops such as cotton enable American growers to export overseas at artificially low prices -- prices that developing countries often cannot compete with, even given much lower labor and production costs. Economists would say that a country such as Burkina Faso has a comparative advantage in cotton -- but not if it's undercut by subsidies paid for by U.S. taxpayers. The World Trade Organization has ruled more than once that some forms of U.S. farm subsidies violate international trade agreements.
For a number of years now, analysts from various vantage points have offered numerous valid arguments for cutting farm subsidies. Looking through a hunger "lens," among the most persuasive reasons is to enable a smallholder farmer in Benin or Mali or Burkina Faso to get a fair price for her crops in her local market.
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